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Speech given by President Thabo Mbeki at an HSRP function at Healdtown Comprehensive School

Speech given by President Thabo Mbeki
At Healdtown Comprehensive School, Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape
(Captured by Jennifer Crocker, HSRP Media Consultant)
24th May 2008

First of all I must apologise for being late, our helicopter got lost which is unforgiveable, and I thank you for your patience. I am waiting for a reprimand from Advocate Gumbi whose mother studied at Healdtown and I suspect she is not going to speak to me for some time because my pilots had difficulty finding the school.

I am pleased to be here to celebrate with you and to thank Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane for accepting our request to lead this project and we thank him for his endeavours in this regard.

None of us can doubt the critical need for education in South Africa today; there can be no question in how important about its importance and the role that it can play in building a better country and leading towards the eradication of poverty and healing the dreadful legacy of apartheid that was bequeathed to black schools in this country.

The seven schools that have been identified for the first phase of restoration by the Historic Schools Restoration project are all schools that make a massive contribution to the struggle for freedom in this country. With the rebuilding of these schools we are faced with a tremendous challenge and opportunity to return them to their future state of excellence and to develop a new generation of learners who will be ready to take their rightful place in South Africa.

In the past in these schools discipline and excellent teachers were the cornerstones of what made them great, and we hope that these ingredients will bring the schools back to their former glory.

But school discipline only goes so far in furthering the aims and dreams we have for these schools, I want to make a special appeal to parents to realise that the primary responsibility for raising good citizens who are ready to go out into the world and shine lies in their involvement and commitment to the process.

Unlike my father Govan Mbeki I was a student of Lovedale and there was plenty of rivalry between us on the sports field. I remember the teachers who inspired us to do our best. One of my favourite memories is of a science teacher who always had a glass of water on his desk. In those days we had proper laboratories and it was genuine education to be able to carry out experiments, for some reason the headmaster of Lovedale did not like this teacher very much, and much later on we discovered that the glass of water was in fact laced with gin: but the point was that Lovedale pupils achieved some of the highest matric science marks in the country. The point is that while he may have been tippling he inspired in his pupils a love for his subject and got excellent results, I must also add that it was one of the warmest classes in the school so we enjoyed our lessons immensely there.

And those are the kinds of teachers we need to attract to our rural schools and historic black schools: teachers who lead with commitment and passion for the subjects they teach.

The HSRP project is very dear to the heart of the government and the reason why we have given it financial backing because we believe that these schools and those who went to them are in a position to give us a particular perspective on the high standard of education they achieved before apartheid policies destroyed them. This is evidenced by the number of people in high office today in all spheres of society who were educated in schools such as Healdtown. We need to be reminded of this history of excellence and to bring it back to life. With the contributions that we expect from successful alumni of these schools, and government investment we expect that one day the eagle that is the emblem of eagle will once again fly proudly at this school, inspiring those who attend it and providing a school of excellence for children from the rural areas.

While rebuilding and restoring the physical aspects of the school, it is equally important that we are able to bring back the spirit of these schools. Itís about giving a vision to our country and to our youth that will benefit all South Africans.
These schools were much more than just schools for South African youth in their heyday, they drew students from around Africa, from as far afield as Angola who came to study here. There was a spirit of pan Africanism and a prevailing feeling that the liberation of Africa would be nurtured in these schools.

These schools were about educating African people and not just South Africans.

We have moved far away from that ideal and today we are faced with a disgrace and humiliation as a nation as we see a handful of people launching xenophobic attacks on other Africans. The government is committed to taking firm action to put a halt to this reprehensive behaviour. From these schools a clear message needs to be sent out that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and that are all Africans first, and South Africans after this.

As I have said the HSRP project has the full support of my government and we are keenly interested in it succeeding. Schools must be returned to centres of excellence of learning.

It is also the responsibility of civil society and the illustrious alumni of these schools to take an interest in this project and to come on board to help rebuild the schools through investment in them.
If we give children schools where they can learn to spread their wings and fly, where their dreams can be nurtured and developed then we will have made a great investment not only in the lives of the pupils but also in the future growth and stability of our country and region. We will give parents a reason to be proud of their childrenís schools and they will be keen to get involved in the schools.

Because of the presence of the Archbishop I am happy to introduce the concept of a collection plate, and I ask you all to consider how much you can give to invest in the rebuilding and future of these schools. I know that Judge Thembile Skweyiya is here and that he is an alumni of Healdtown and I want to tell him that I know how much he earns and how much he can afford to give. But we should not just single out the good judge we are all in a position to think what we can offer in terms of financial aid and aid in kind in this project.

What can, and I believe will be achieved, through this project will give us all a reason to be proud. If we join hands and do what we can much can be achieved by many people committing their time and resources.
These schools must serve as a source of pride and must become places that young people aspire to attend.
We live in times of great change, but we also live in a time of great hope. Here we have the possibility to make that hope a reality, the chance to produce young people who are truly learned. As the Chinese proverb says learning can never be taken away from us.

So to that extent we must continue to combine the best of our past with best of our present and out of that we will be able to usher in our aspirations for a great nation.

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